Fort Mill Times

Never mind the cost. Is the water they’re drinking in York County completely safe?

Carolina Water Service customers oppose water rate increase

Lake Wylie, Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover SC residents oppose Carolina Water Service rate increases.
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Lake Wylie, Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover SC residents oppose Carolina Water Service rate increases.

Sure, they’re upset about the price. But it’s the water itself residents from across York County say isn’t fit to drink or have piping through their homes.

“Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said Lee Kehler, who moved into his Lake Wylie home 12 years ago.

Kehler said in testimony Tuesday night the water in his home exceeds the federal action standard for lead. Kehler said Carolina Water Service tested the water in his home and found its lead count at 19 parts per billion. Federal rules state a water supplier has to take steps to control corrosion within its system if 10 percent or more of its customer taps exceed 15 parts per billion.

Kehler said his 1983 home has all copper and plastic pipes, so he doesn’t know why the lead count would be high.

“The water levels in my home do not meet the standards of the EPA,” Kehler said.

He said the company didn’t offer an explanation or advice after it tested his water.

Almost a dozen residents from across York County testified when the South Carolina Public Service Commission came to Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie. Many of them with concerns about water quality. About 100 people attended. The hearing is part of a rate increase case where Carolina Water wants about 15 to 30 percent more from its customers statewide.

An attorney for Carolina Water at the hearing did not respond to comments Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the company did make a statement to the Fort Mill Times.

“CWS takes the potential for lead in drinking water very seriously,” Robert Yanity, communications coordinator for CWS wrote in an email. “CWS owns and operates 105 water systems in South Carolina and routinely performs compliance water quality testing to ensure its water meets federal drinking water standards. After receiving test results from samples taken in 2015 in River Hills and Foxwood in York County, CWS learned that some results showed elevated levels of lead.

“Although both subdivisions are provided purchased water treated by York County with the appropriate corrosion control treatment in place, CWS immediately initiated retesting in the homes where the original samples were collected. The new results came back below the EPA action level, and follow-up testing since then has all been in compliance. CWS provided these results and educational information to customers whose water was tested.”

The color of water

Al Vesting of Clover said he has to change out faucets and fixtures every few years. They turn black, he said, because of the water.

“I buy bottled water to drink,” he said.

Brian Augustine said he bought his 1980 home in Lake Wylie a few years ago. He replaced all the plumbing and put in a two-filter, million-gallon whole house filtration system.

“Every three months I change the filter,” he said. “That filter looks like charcoal. There’s something in the water. Your group could have Flint on your hands and not even know it.”

Augustine was referring to an on-going problem in that Michigan city where dangerously high levels of lead have been discovered in drinking water. The contamination in that case was traced back to cost-cutting measures.

In 2016, data released by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control revealed utility systems with elevated lead levels in Rock Hill, Tega Cay, Columbia and elsewhere in the state.

Linda Fick said her neighborhood in Rock Hill is living through an “experiment in horror” with Carolina Water, which started with a lagoon area she said was so badly contaminated, the utility had to drain it and replace it with a pump station.

“Through neglect and poor maintenance practice, the water company actually destroyed the lagoon,” Fick said.

She and others say boil water advisories are a frequent occurrence. In 2011, the utility found water leaking from her community storage tank, Fick testified Tuesday. It took three years to replace.

“If they’re leaking out, then contaminants can get in,” Fick said.

The testimony under oath Tuesday mirrored comments from past rate increase hearings and a public meeting hosted by the company in December, held in the same room at Camp Thunderbird. At that Dec. 4 public meeting, utility staff said the typical bill in Lake Wylie for water and sewer is $97 a month. If the increases are approved, it would jump to $125.

A resident brought a jar of water from his home to that meeting.

“Pretty nasty what you expect us to drink,” he said.

Another said white towels came out black after one wash and the water isn’t safe to drink.

“You want to increase (rates) by 20 to 30 percent and the water is not even drinkable?” said Sabrina Anthony of Lake Wylie. “I don’t even want to wash in it, bathe in it, wash my clothes in it. It’s so disgusting.”

Another Lake Wylie resident, Ellie Ackerman, said she warns visitors.

“The first thing I have to tell them when they come into the house is, don’t drink the water,” she said.

For many residents, at last year’s and Tuesday’s meeting, concerns about water quality haven’t led to direct contact with the utility.

“It seems that everybody’s got it, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Vesting said. “That’s the water we get.”

Yanity stressed in the statement issued Wednesday that the company wants to hear from customers concerned about the quality of their water and provided a phone number.

“We are always happy to work with customers on their issues and have talked with several customers in attendance last night individually at previous public meetings to address their concerns,” Yanity wrote. “We encourage anyone who has a concern about their water to call us at 1-800-367-4314.”

There’s something in the water. Your group could have Flint on your hands and not even know it.

Brian Augustine, CWS customer

Augustine said his experience with the company doesn’t create confidence they would fix it.

“They don’t give the impression that they’re a top notch organization, so I’m not wasting my time,” he said.

Chuck Ledford, who lives in the Fort Mill area, said his main concern is the cost of water, however, quality is an issue.

“It’s been an ongoing thing,” he said. “I’ve lived out here for a long time. The water out here naturally has sort of a musky odor to it. You go out right now and turn the water on and you’ll get that immediately.”

Of the more than 9,700 Carolina Water customers in York County, some are on well systems and others on main water and sewer lines. Systems in Fort Mill, Lake Wylie and Rock Hill are not connected, so Ledford said he doesn’t know where the lead is coming from.

Ledford said the greenish-blue rings in sinks and bathtubs come from “the acidity of the water.”

“What it does is it attacks those copper pipes,’ he said. “That’s literally the copper pipes being eaten away in your house.”

Ledford said he tested his water more than a year ago and it was within federal water quality guidelines. Ledford has a home filtration system but still uses tap water only for dishes and bathing.

While much of the testimony that will determine whether Carolina Water gets its increase will have to do with costs, residents say poor water quality issues are hard to swallow.

“It’s just ridiculous that we also have to put up with this,” Fick said.